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How to avoid cognitive biases

Updated: May 16, 2023

cognitive bias

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Which would you be more likely to keep watching, alone? (Assume all other things are equal.)

  1. A terrible 35-minute TV show that you’re 5 minutes into.

  2. An equally terrible 2-hour movie that you’re 90 minutes into.

Either way, you spend 30 more minutes on terrible media.

Most people will be much more likely to keep watching the movie. After all, they’ve already sunk so much time into it! That reluctance to abandon work you’ve already done, even if there’s no value to be gained, is an example of the sunk-cost fallacy. It’s one way that cognitive biases can impair your decision-making.

Everyone is susceptible to cognitive biases. However, here are some guidelines you can use to help reduce negative impacts of cognitive biases and level up your thinking.

  • Be aware of common biases. Knowing about the most common mental shortcomings our minds tend to have is a useful first step to make you more careful when forming judgments or making decisions.

  • Reflect on past mistakes. Looking for patterns in how you've perceived prior situations and where you might have made mistakes can significantly reduce the chances you repeat a similar mistake. Try our free Learning From Mistakes tool for help rebounding from your mistakes and carry on as an even better person.

  • Seek multiple perspectives. Asking others for their input can help us find potential blind spots which we wouldn't otherwise.

  • Embrace the opposite. Trying to understand an issue from multiple sides can help you understand the bigger picture and make more accurate decisions. You can read our article on different worldviews for an overview of some of the most common big-picture differences of perspective. It's also worth checking our Belief Challenger tool to refine your beliefs and form more accurate views.

  • Consider that you might have been wrong (and that's okay). Being open to the idea of having been wrong can be painful in the short term, but in the long term it will make you a better critical thinker and a better decision maker. As Julia Galef wrote, “Discovering you were wrong is an update, not a failure, and your worldview is a living document meant to be revised.”

That’s not all! Here are some free, fun, and interactive tools to help you understand your tendency towards cognitive biases (don't worry, every one of us humans has them!).

1. Mental Traps Mini-course (10 minutes)

This mini-course will also help you learn about some of the most common biases, and suggest free ClearerThinking courses and tools designed to help you learn to counter them.

2. Political Bias Test (15 Minutes)

Become more aware of your political biases and test your policy knowledge with this fun, free quiz.

3. Common Misconceptions Test (15 Minutes)

Separate fact from B.S. in this fun quiz that asks you to identify the misconceptions among 30 common beliefs.

4. How Rational Are You, Really? (8 Minutes)

Learn which of 16 reasoning styles you use, get an overall analysis of your rationality, and find out what you can do next to improve your rationality skills.

Final thoughts on cognitive bias

​​We all have cognitive biases, but hopefully these practical guidelines and resources can help reduce their negative impact on your decision-making and help you achieve a happier and more productive life.

Lastly, we leave you with a quote from one of the most influential psychologists of our time whose work helped uncover many biases.

“The confidence that individuals have in their beliefs depends mostly on the quality of the story they can tell about what they see, even if they see little.”

Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow


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